“We really own that bullseye”: Princeton looks for second three-peat in seven years

Shortly after Princeton’s season ended with an 82-77 defeat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Kentucky, Tigers head coach Courtney Banghart recounted how her newly elected captains, Bella Alarie and Taylor Baur, informed her that they desperately wanted to get their team to the Sweet 16.  With the new season less than a week away, the Orange & Black still look to aim high.

“After that game, we talked a lot about what the future holds for our team.  We want to make history,” Alarie said at the Tigers’ Media Day on Monday afternoon. “We have high expectations for ourselves, but we know we can reach them.”

While Princeton will make another run at the NCAAs with Alarie, the two-time Ivy Player of the Year, Baur and first team All-Ivy Carlie Littlefield, they will do it without their head coach.

Banghart took her 253 total wins, 137 Ivy victories, seven league titles, two Ivy Tournament championships and 2015 Naismith National Coach of the Year award to the ACC, where she will take over at North Carolina. Princeton won Ivy titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013 under Banghart and looking to win a third consecutive Ivy crown come 2020.

To take Banghart’s place, Princeton brought in the highly experienced and successful Carla Berube.

Berube was a key member of the UConn Huskies from 1993-1997, winning a national championship in 1995.  After playing professionally and starting out as an assistant coach at Providence, she took over the Tufts head coaching job in 2002.  Over the next 17 seasons, Berube won 80% of her games, taking the Jumbos to nine Sweet Sixteens, four Final Fours and two appearances in the national finals.

In 2015, the same year that Banghart won the Naismith award, Berube received the Pat Summitt Trophy winner as the Division III National Coach of the Year.

“They’re a lot of fun.  I can’t wait for 4:45 to roll around on the court,” said the new Tigers coach. “It’s a pretty great machine that I’ve walked into.”

That machine is the two-time defending Ivy League and Ivy Tournament champions, led by Alarie, one of the Ivy League’s all-time greats.  The 6′ 4″ forward from Bethesda, Md., projected as a first-round draft pick in next year’s WNBA Draft, still has room for growth.

“She’s got to re-familiarize herself with her three-point shot off the cut, her three-point shot off the catch, how to use screens, so that she is truly a guard-forward,” said Banghart during her final Court Report podcast.

On Monday, Alarie herself added two more areas: “one is strength and the other is communication.”

While Alarie will continue to be the main cog in the Princeton machine, Littlefield will be the engine that gets the team running. “We’re going to be pushing the ball up a lot,” said the junior point guard from Waukee, Iowa.  “She (Berube) doesn’t want me to jog it up, ever.”

Helping Littlefield jump start the backcourt will be sophomore Abby Meyers, who came off the bench to hit 40 three-pointers and average 11.8 in Ivy League contests during her 2017-18 rookie year.  She was expected to start and play a major role last season, but an academic issue caused the Potomac, Maryland, native to leave school for the year.

“It’s great to have Abby back, not just on the team, but back on campus,” said Berube of her outside sharpshooter.  “She’s a strong, strong player.”

With a new coaching staff, the Tigers will have to get used to a different style of play.

“One of the big differences this year is our emphasis on defense,” said Alarie.

Echoed Littlefield, “Coach Berube is really big on defense and using that to fuel our offense.”

Berube, who views the subtle changes as “just putting my spin on things,” is pleased with her team’s efforts.

“They’ve done a really, really great job of buying into what we’re teaching and coaching,” Berube said.

Princeton has another strong nonconference schedule, including games against Iowa, Iowa State, Missouri and Penn State.

“When you’re battle-tested, I think it really does make you more confident going into conference play,” Alarie said.

Once January rolls around, Princeton’s coaches and players will use that experience to help capture its third straight regular and postseason titles.

They know it won’t be easy as the league’s other seven teams have their eyes on them.

“I haven’t coached in it (the Ivy League), but I know quite a bit about it,” Berube said.  “I know how important every single game is and how competitive it will be.”

“We really own that bullseye,” Alarie said. “We’ve really grown to love having that target on our backs.”

If they can take their rivals’ best shots and make it out of Lavietes Pavilion in mid-March with another Ivy League Tournament championship, the Tigers will finally have a chance to make history as they look to make it deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Leave a Comment